The Electromagnetic Sediment of the Noosphere

Regarding the possibility of the Earth remaining hidden from detection by alien civilizations by running silent, New Scientist points out that it’s already too late (Shostak, Seth, “It’s Too Late to Worry That the Aliens Will Find Us,” 3 July 2010):

We have been inadvertently betraying our presence for 60 years with our television, radio and radar transmissions. The earliest episodes of I Love Lucy have washed over 6,000 or so star systems, and are reaching new audiences at the rate of one solar system a day. If there are sentient beings out there, the signals will reach them.

(Related: “The Noosphere Visualized,” 1 January 2009)

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Reconstructing Hegelianism

Here’s why Charles Mudede has become one of my most closely followed blogger-thinkers: because his project is my project (“The End of Internalism,” SLOG, The Stranger, 9 June 2009):

I’m quietly building a case for the importance of Hegel in an age that cares neither for him or his direct descendant, Marx. A part of the case will, one, link Hegel’s concept of geist and its movement in time (world history) with the idea of the evolution of noosphere in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man; and, two, link Hegel’s idea of absolute spirit with the ideas expressed in Alva Noë’s new book Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness — some of these ideas can be heard on the Brain Science Podcast.

I am very interested in using contemporary information economy concepts such as the noosphere or general systems theory to reconstruct the Hegelian system. I’m less sure where Mr. Mudede is going with the second part of this, but Out of Our Heads is on my list now.

The Noosphere Visualized

FaceBook's corner of the noosphere visualized, by Jack Lindamood

Jack Lindamood, one of the programmers at FaceBook, has produced a demonstration of an incredible tool that displays all activities on FaceBook geolocated on a rendering of the Earth. When he switches to a mode where it draws a line connecting the initiator to the recipient we get a view of something hitherto entirely invisible: a small subset of the noosphere being stitched together in real time.

I love it when he declares this “the Earth as Facebook sees it.” Then he switched to the wireframe view in which the Earth becomes just a grid for the information patterns that arc over its surface. Just as the geosphere becomes the platform for the biosphere and the biosphere becomes a geological force (Chown, Marcus, “Earth’s ‘Mineral Kingdom’ Evolved Hand in Hand with Life,” New Scientist, 19 November 2008), so the Earth is the grid on top of which the noosphere constructs itself, eventually becoming biological.

The Expanse of the Noosphere

Having all those icons stretching out into outer space looks impressive. But both the atmosphere and the crust of the Earth are proportionally thinner than the skin of an apple. And the biosphere is confined to an even narrower band than that. The noosphere’s region of activity is narrower still, with human activity limited to only a few score meters above and below the surface of the Earth. The noosphere has a tiny primary zone of hyperactivity, but tendrils reaching out to more exotic regions. Just as the biosphere is largely confined to the Earth’s surface, but extreme species inhabit the deep fissures of geysers, the bottom of ocean trenches subsisting on exotic metabolisms and at the bottom of mine shafts wherever we drill them and at whatever depth, so the noosphere stretches in tentative wisps far beyond its primary realm. Consider:

  1. Given that we have probes on other planets, in interplanetary space and in the case of the Voyager probes, approaching the heliopause and hence interstellar space, that are all beaming signals back to the Earth, the network of input devices of the noosphere is interplanetary and nearly interstellar. A small portion of the information making up the noosphere and effecting outcomes within it, is cosmic in origin.
  2. The internet has gone interplanetary. (Courtland, Rachel, “‘Interplanetary Internet’ Passes First Test,” New Scientist, 19 November 2008). NASA used to manually initiate direct, batch communication with our space probes, but now has software routers in many probes for an always on packet switched interplanetary space network. This includes orbiters and rovers roaming planetary surfaces. The time may soon come when the various surveillance and communications systems in space will have open APIs like present day Google Maps, FaceBook, Twitter and others.
  3. The first radio broadcasts powerful enough to penetrate the ionosphere were made in the late 1930s, so for the last 70 years an expanding radio sphere or future light cone has been filling with the broadcasts of our civilization, arranged in concentric spheres in reverse-chronological order (from out perspective): every electromagnetic pulse from an atomic explosion, every television broadcast, telephone conversation conducted through satellite, IP packet sent through satellite internet, the complete transcript and telemetry of every space mission and the numerous software patches and whole operating system upgrades broadcast to various space probes. In that sense the noosphere, or at least the informational exhaust wafting off the noosphere, or the electromagnetically petrified version of the noosphere already stretches out to a radius of 70 light years. At that distance it spans nearly 5,000 stars and a similar number of exosolar planetary systems.

Time is out of joint and an epoch has an extremely long tail in both direction. One begins with imperceptible first movements, and similarly only finally passes away long after anyone has noticed. We might say that even while the noosphere is still only in the primitive stages of weaving itself together here on Earth, it has already become interplanetary and arguably also interstellar.

(FaceBook video via Frank Episale)