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

@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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Hello friends, I can make Monday, April 5th work. I have a meeting from 9-9:30am PST, but can meet wiht you all before or after. Thanks!

@alberto @KileyArroyo I am guessing this is not happening today, would anyone like to suggest another date? Maybe in a week?

@KileyArroyo @carolina_carvalho I am available, though a bit under the weather. Shall we make a pass anyway? The link is

Hello friends, I’m sorry we were unable to connect earlier this week (it’s been rather full). I will be out for spring break next week, but back the week of April 19th. Why don’t we reschedule a time to meet after that. Most mornings, particularly on Tuesday and Thursday work well for me. Thank you and looking forward!

Dear All - I like to give you some feedback from the Witness event on Thursday 22nd April.

It was a good learning and helped me to understand better; I have question about the ‘process’. Hence, I now understand better how building Witness may function.

Well, I am still concerned with the “reality plausibility” of Witness. The term “reality plausibility” sounds peculiar if we speak about SF, but as we are not talking about ‘phantasy’, it is essential. The now intended application cases in UNEP context make “reality plausibility” even more critical. I guess this view is shared. The difficulty is to locate ‘where’ is a border[zone] to phantasy, or whether Witness is reasonable rich in features to be perceived of plausible reality. Also, “reality plausibility” is much in the eye of the observer.

Questioning ‘ plausibility ’ (by friendly / unfriendly visitors) will happen by stressing that ‘something’ has been missed in the features of Witness. I use the word ‘feature’ to indicate something different than a technical/procedural aspect. A critic may disagree how a feature is described, but absence of a feature may be ‘deadly’.

To illustrate, when I read the documents that describe Witness, I noticed, for example, that neither drinking water, wastewater, nor children or care of the elderly seems mentioned. The drink/wastewater (technological) issue you may handled; e.g. by specifying that the energy is available to produce drinking water from seawater and clean the wastewater. Having missed societal features in support of children or older people may be more challenging to handle. In the first order, discounting good, service, incomes, wealth… may give the resources for these services. However, to have such features ‘plausible’ needs much more to it.

More generally, I wonder how to search the texts describing Witness’s districts and history to identify ‘so far missed features’, which may impact a perceived plausibility? I did some text search (ctrl F – kind). Cumbersome! It showed, for example, that searching for ‘school’ does not lead to education issues but a philosophical school of thoughts. But, can a district function without education of people (of any age).

It comes without saying, any list of ‘missing features’ will be infinite. Hence, it is impractical to compile it. What is possible, however, is to get a tool (maybe; advanced [sematic] text search) to check the existing sources whether ‘feature XYZ’ is addressed or not. Then, to initiate world building, a second tool seems required to ‘tax’ the resources of a given district to compensate for a given missing feature. An initial discussion could target the size of the tax (e.g. ‘having missed children and older people issues cost you 30% of all resources because….’). Then features may get added into the district & taxation is reduced). Such an approach is very crude, but may work out as a zero-order approach.

I hope that the above is felt to be constructive. I know that it is easier to ‘pick holes’ than to fill them. However, as a leisure activity (= reading a SF) holes in the texture of the story may be acceptable, but as Witness as tool for scenario-building rises the requirements. I recall a SF of the ‘we live in a matric-type’ where the protagonists found ‘black & white parts’; that was ‘where the matrix was not fully programmed’…

best regards, Martin

p.s. I was off some hours because I had to finish:

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p.s. I learned today about the Cornwall Consensus - by the G7 Panel on Economic Resilience that releases policy recommendations on health, climate, trade and digital governance. It may be, @alberto @nadia , some input material for Witness. At least panel members like Mariana Mazzucato trigger some expectations & the summary reads promising (studying the recommendations need time).
G7-Economic-Resilience-Panel-The-Cornwall-Consensus.pdf (93.1 KB)
G7-Economic-Resilience-Panel-Key-Policy-Recommendations.pdf (129.3 KB)


Hi all, just a note, I finally came around to cleaning up my accumulated notes of a draft for a distrikt and part 1 is online. Introducing a new distrikt: Libro Werde (part 1) :slight_smile:

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An update was added just now: Introducing a new distrikt: Libro Werde (1st update added)