Chapter 16. Virtual Codes and Hierarchies of Time

Tom finished his degree while I worked on the restoration of an ancient cemetery with four of the Columbia Basin tribes. A friend and colleague, Lewis M., who was also a member of the Yakama Nation and a Washat leader in the Wapato Longhouse, married us in the backyard of friends, Audrey and Neal T. The funding for the cemetery restoration project ran out after a few years and the job market worsened, so Tom and I moved to the other side of the Cascades, to Vancouver, WA, where I had a half-time adjunct teaching job.

I continued to work with Jack whenever possible. We were still studying the relationships between ontogeny and phylogeny, and Jack was looking for different ways to track and understand developmental trajectories. It's difficult to imagine that only one organism at a time speciates, and the evidence suggests speciation isn't especially gradual. Perhaps some sort of action-at-a-distance occurs, where multiple individuals change in a similar fashion at the same time. Edwina Taborsky, a colleague of Jack and Cy, had some ideas linking matter transformation (or information expression) to the flow of energy. The boundary conditions for a species are more abstract than for an individual. Species have been traditionally thought of as interbreeding populations, but what if a species is more like a virtual code, with no material existence until individuals express it. Instead of increasing variation in individuals being a step on the way to speciation, it becomes more a measure of the diversity in the species code. Is it possible that, at some point, a group of individuals collectively re-interprets the information within themselves, expressing the characteristics of a new species? Traditional notions of species have shed little light, and we should not be so afraid to look at these old problems in new ways.

Biologist Stan Salthe (sharp-penned critic of neo-Darwinian theory) and physicist Koichiro Matsuno had some equally intriguing ideas about the hierarchical nature of time. Matsuno suggested that local, internal communications and physical responses taking place within an organism generate time as they go. As these small-scale, asynchronous events occur and are integrated into the larger living system, they become part of global, synchronous time and unchangeable history. Like Polanyi's hierarchy of boundary conditions, perhaps the higher level of global time constrains the events that are possible at the lower level, but it is the lower levels of local, asynchronous, not-quite-predictable activity that generate time in the first place. These ideas are worth pursuing.

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