The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Tyson Yunkaporta. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Tyson Yunkaporta.
Tyson: Hi Jim, it’s great to be back.
Jim: Hey. Yeah, great to have you back. For our listeners, this is part two, we recorded another episode about a week ago. The conversation got so dense and so interesting, we both agreed that we couldn’t do justice to the conversation without doing a part two. So, here we are with part two. A little background on Tyson, he’s an academic, an arts critic and a researcher who is a member of the Apalech Clan in far Northern Queensland. For you people that don’t know about Australia, that’s in the upper-right of Australia, I think have I got that right? Up, as in North being top, which is, of course, a very Western way of thinking about the world. Sometimes, you want to look at the map the other way around.
Tyson: That’s right.
Jim: Anyway, that’s where he comes from. Not only does he do all this academic stuff, but he also carves traditional tools, which we’ll talk about, weapons, and also works as a lecturer in indigenous knowledge at Deakin University in Melbourne and he lives in Melbourne.
Jim: As in part one, we’re going to at least loosely route the discussion around Tyson’s new book called Sand Talk. I got to tell you, this is about the most interesting book I’ve read in a couple of years, with respect to trying to understand where we should go as a society. I’ve now finished reading the book about 10 days ago. I read it carefully, annotated it and have been thinking about it. I would even say I have been marinating myself in it for the last 10 days.
Jim: This is an odd feeling, but I can feel it almost in my DNA now, that it’s trying to speak to me and tell me something that I have never known. I’ve been working on this thing called Game B with some friends and associates of mine, for several years. We’re trying to think about how to build a society for the West that can actually endure and not self terminate and to provide a way better quality of life for people in an ethical way of living. It’s really hard to get there from Western civilization, to tell you the truth.
Jim: And this book is calling to me. The clouds haven’t cleared, I don’t see the beautiful horizon, but I truly feel that what Tyson’s talking about here is drawing me forward to how we really think about transitioning from Western civilization, which is on a death spiral, frankly, to something that’s both sustainable and wonderful and I really can’t put my finger on it any more precisely than that.
Tyson: Yeah. You go forward into more clouds that… There’s just more clouds. I haven’t seen that beautiful horizon yet.
Jim: Yeah, I think it’s there, God damn it. I mean, that’s my hope.
Tyson: It’s got to be there. Yeah.
Jim: It’s got to be there, but it’s not easy. I’m telling you people read this goddamn book. This book will change how you think if you take it seriously and it is really a serious book, it will do amazing things to your head. So just read the goddamn book. All right, there we go.
Tyson: It is just a… It’s a neural adventure, isn’t it?
Jim: It really is. And it sticks with you. I mean the damn thing, I just dwell on it, I really do, and I go back and think about the examples you give, which are from all over the place. I mean talk about multi-perspective. I mean the book uses complexity science as a strong lens, things we talked about last time. The book has a complexity or complex 77 times in it. I’m a bit of a quant nerd on text. I have some tools, let me analyze it. And yet it also looks back from at least 50,000 years of history from the indigenous Australian perspective and it’s quite interesting how the two perspectives often provide the same answer, which is just uncanny to tell you the truth.
Tyson: As I said last time, all your transcripts together would probably have at least 76 motherfuckers in it as well.
Jim: Way more than that, way more. I think I got at least one that probably has that many in it.
Tyson: We’ll add a zero to that.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. And that’s despite the fact that I have so far eschewed talking about game A politics on the show. If I ever do that, I’ll definitely break 76 in the first episode.
Tyson: Yeah, it’s funny, it never comes in with talk about hard forks and the Dunbar number. They talk about, “Oh, you’re defectors and you’re this and that” but they never quite get down to the politics and the polarization that happens.
Jim: That’s by design, frankly, that in our Game B conversations and what I do on my podcast, I want to get beyond all that team red, team blue, at least in the US vernacular, because they’re both wrong, right? The real answer is not even close to either one. So why should we deplete our emotional energy lining up in teams and fighting over what’s not even close to the way forward.
Jim: So that’s my perspective on it and that’s why I resist the temptation, at least with my Game A hat on, I mean, my Game B hat on, to be dragged into those conversations. Now with my Game B hat, anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that I abash a certain stupid ass incumbent in the United States on a regular basis but we’re not going to talk about that today are we?
Tyson: No but I do want one of those Game B hats. Do you have a merch thing happening? You need to get a store up.
Jim: Yeah, we do. We don’t have one yet and the issue is there is no Game B organization. It’s radically decentralized. Of course, that means that anyone who wants to could set up a store, but there is no official Game B anything which is kind of part of its charm.
Jim: Anyway, before we get back into the details of the book, I’d love to have you chat a little bit about a theme that comes in every chapter, which is the wooden artifacts of various sorts that you make. I also do a little woodworking, I’m sure not nearly as cool as yours. Tell me a little bit about you and woodworking and why it was important to you to spend a fair amount of time talking about the woodworking you did while you were writing each chapter.
Tyson: Well, the woodworking is the center of my cognitive process and my cognitive world and so describing that web of relations of neural relations around that, that explains better this idea of what the mind is and what my theory of mind is because that’s how I do all my cognitive work, is through that. I mean, I’ve got to cut different kinds of words for different kinds of implements, from many different places in exactly the right season or it’ll go wrong, and I’ve got to have an association with that plant, that species as well.
Tyson: And I have to understand the story and where that story goes, like a map in the land. So songs, these song lines through the landscape we talked about, that is like a big cognitive map of the landscape. So you have these inner landscapes as well, in your mind, and you’re traveling them and connecting up all these stories and eventually they web all the way across the continent, just intersecting. So you’re sitting right at the middle of this.
Tyson: Some of the things I think I describe in one, that I’ve made two boomerangs that are split from the same tree. Yeah, it was a beefwood tree, and I can’t pick those up without almost being in that place and no matter how far apart those boomerangs are, they’re still connected. It’s that… What do they call that in quantum physics, when you got those two particles?
Tyson: Entanglement, I’m doing like boomerang entanglement. But everything’s entangled. The place where I cut those is 3000 kilometers away from where I am now, and I’m still entangled with that place. And, if I pick them up, those boomerangs, if I pick them up, I’m going to pick them up now and see what happens. But if I’m holding them in my hands, I just go into a different place.
Tyson: So I’m there and I’m standing and I can see the tree. Ah, yeah. And when I clap those together, it kind of really animates them and animates my mind and takes me to that place and I can see the tree, the beefwood tree. It’s got these little these split, hard nuts that you can use as clothes pegs. There’s a nut inside there that you can eat as well. That’s medicinal, it smells like… it smells amazing. The wood, you know it’s going to do you good.
Tyson: So it’s got a lot of different properties, this tree, but I’m looking right out across, it’s just up from a swamp area, like a tea tree swamp, and of course, straight away then, I think mother’s side has a totemic connection to those tea trees.
Tyson: But then that’s swamps like a scary place. There’s people, if people are doing sorcery, they’ll sneak off there and do that kind of thing, so you’ve got to be careful there. And then there’s these two brothers, these [Yochi Yochi 00:09:54], these sort of weird spirit things that sneak around in the swamp there as well. So there’s that story and it just goes on and on, but then I see the imbalances.
Tyson: So there’s termite mounds there, but the termite mounds are oversized and they look beautiful and tourists take photos of them, but it’s breaks my heart because I can see that that means the place is sick because when the termite mounds get too big, it’s out of balance. And I know that the Golden Shoulder Parrot that used to nest in there is extinct now, just in the last couple of decades, and it’s extinct because there’s a moth, there used to be a moth that’s gone now that lays its eggs in the nest of the Golden Shoulder Parrot that has its nest inside the termite mound, because it’s a perfectly regulated temperature in there.
Tyson: And then the moth eggs and the bird eggs hatch at the same time and so as the birds are growing up, the larvae is eating the shit of those baby birds. If that’s not happening, then the baby birds just drown in their own shit in that hole in the termite nest. And so that’s what’s happened. And they live for 50 years or something, so nobody really noticed. And then all of a sudden those parrots were gone and then there’s an imbalance there and everything’s going wrong and so the whole place gets sick and the termite mounds are getting oversized and everything’s going wrong.
Tyson: And then there’s a tree nearby that it’s supposed to get red flowers on it in a particular season and when the red flowers come, you know that it’s time to go and collect oysters because that means the oysters are fat. And those trees haven’t flowered for about five years and the oysters haven’t been getting fat for about five years. Everything’s going really wrong there. There’s a lot of [00:11:50] site mining happening there and there’s a lot of imbalances, and people sort of look at it like untouched wilderness, but you can see that it’s dying, you know?
Jim: Yeah, very interesting, and that’s one of the things I noticed, throughout the book is that when you’re using the indigenous lens, the knowledge is connected to physical representations. I mean, if we use the Western terminology, you could say they are mnemonics, but I suspect it’s actually a lot deeper than that.
Tyson: Yeah. Well, so when I’m composing, always before I write something, I’ll carve something first, and I’ll carve it and it’s a haptic cognition act. You have that haptic cognition where the tool is the extension of your arm and then the other tool that you’re making, your knowledge, the things you’re thinking through and the things you’re composing, are going into that wood as you carve it.
Tyson: And then you go one step further and actually etch those designs into the wood as well, as a further mnemonic thing. It’s adding another visual layer to it. So all the entire book is… I’m looking at a pile of tools there now. That’s the actual book and that would be like more than Karl Marx, there’s a lot of volumes there, you know? So the book, Sand Talk, itself, I’m just translating fragments from each of those tools into that, but there’s a lot more to it as well.
Tyson: Yeah, so with this cognition, there are terabytes of information there and they’re in this landscape, these maps you carry around, because memory is navigational, cognitively speaking. Navigation and story are the two main tools we use as human beings for memory. And so we have that mnemonic of the sky, the sky is reflecting the land. So the night sky is also a map of the landscape wherever you are and as the stars move around, they tell you different stories of what’s happening in different seasons in the landscape.
Tyson: So you get those cycles of time happening there, and so you’ve got those maps reflecting each other. So there’s terabytes of knowledge that are recorded in the stars as well. That’s a vast, infinite text.
Jim: I love that.
Tyson: So, I guess if you’re talking about, if you’re trying to put together ideas about an ideal society and you’re basing this in evolutionary theory and you’re postulating things about, well, what cave men did, it’s worth consulting or looking at the complexity of paleolithic cultures and the cognition within paleolithic cultures, are still existing cultures, looking at those to look at the kind of complexity you got there.
Tyson: Because if you’re just imagining a modern human dropped back in that context, then all you’re going to get is flight or fight and the fittest survive and all that kind of weirdness, and so you’re going to end up with a flawed model right from the start.
Jim: Yeah, that’s what I was talking about, the DNA calling to me that there is something deeper and richer than anything we’ve experienced in our Western, at least my, I shouldn’t speak for you because you’ve experienced both. In my eyes, Western, kind of flat culture, and it’s a known fact from physical anthropology that the civilized man’s brain is actually smaller by about 10% than the earlier man, though still modern humans brains say from 30 or 40,000 years ago, including most of this research was in Europe, the so called Cro-Magnon man, because our lives were way more complex then, it was hard.
Jim: You talk a bit about the snowman who was found up in the Alps, right?
Tyson: Yeah, the ice man.
Jim: Yeah the ice man, the ice man. And wow, considering that they had very minimal technologies of the day, the ice man was astoundingly well prepared for life in an extreme environment.
Tyson: He was, but he was kind of on that cusp. And he was very, very sick, already sort of poisoned from this emerging industrial and agricultural culture that he was involved with. A lot of evidence there. He was full of arsenic from the bronze forge, because he’d obviously been forging weapons at a forge and that was a highly toxic process that had poisoned him horribly. He was riddled with arsenic.
Tyson: He also had Lyme disease. Lyme disease tells me that while they were probably still doing a bit of hunting and gathering, they’d stopped caring for their land properly. The ticks that you get, they’re not out of control if you’re looking after the country properly, if you’re looking after the land.
Jim: Yeah. If you have birds on the land. Ground birds will take care of your tick problem.
Tyson: And even burning off areas, if they’re too scrubby and that there’s too much fuel load, if for some reason, perhaps you’ve come into that place and displaced some of the megafauna that usually eats that, then you don’t want to let that fuel load build up because for a start, you end up with massive bushfires in Greenland, or whatever, that we had earlier this year.
Tyson: I mean, once you get rid of the megafauna, the really big megafauna, then you really do need to be taking care of that fuel load and burning off and that’ll also take care of your ticks.
Jim: That’s a good point. That’s an interesting little, just an aside, you probably know this, you know everything about it seems like in this area, but when we look at the energy consumption of societies in general, they’ve been increasing over time until finally they’re extremely high at the advanced civilization so called. But the Aboriginal people are actually an exception to that rule. If you include the use of fire to control the land, the Aboriginal people were almost as high as Western civilization in terms of the amount of energy that they used.
Tyson: Yeah, I mean that, and so many things, so many just symbiosis that you put yourself in that interacts with the landscape when you belong to it, when you’re part of it. I don’t think there’s anybody… So in my family’s community, everyone’s always in the river and it’s full of crocodiles, but I’ve never, ever heard of someone being taken by a crocodile there, and I mean, until very recently until about the 1950s, the custom was to take the haircut of a male child, the first haircut they had as a baby and do that. You’d cut that hair in that crocodile nesting season.
Tyson: So then you catch a baby crocodile and you tie the hair around the baby crocodile’s head and let it go. And the same way you’re talking about feeling changes in your DNA, that would make an entanglement, I guess, a kind of, if not quantum, then molecular entanglement, between that man as he grew and that crocodile as he grew.
Tyson: And that would be that man’s crocodile and he could go down to the river and call the crocodile and he’d come up. And so that man could go swimming in the river and wouldn’t have to worry about sharks, crocodiles, anything else, that crocodile would help him and they would hunt together. And I know that sounds like an apocryphal tale, but there are photos of this still all around the world because the missionaries, they used to get international tourists coming there and then they’d get all the men in the town to run down to the river and call their crocodiles and jump in and hold up the crocodiles tails in the river and all the tourists would take photos. So that’s something that definitely happened, although it doesn’t happen anymore, which is a shame really.
Jim: Yeah, that shows how closely integrated your people were with the land. They could see the patterns and they did their rituals to reinforce those patterns.
Tyson: Yeah, and so hunting with a crocodile takes a lot less energy, if you know what I mean? If you’re catching very big fish that are about the size of a 10 year old child with your crocodile companion, it makes hunting a lot easier. There’s a lot of things like that that have just been… they seem like superhero powers now.
Jim: Those are the things you need to survive in a tough environment for tens of thousands of years in equilibrium with your environment.
Tyson: Yeah, but then also if that environment is incredibly abundant and you’re managing it properly, then it isn’t a harsh environment. I mean, it’s a harsh environment to try and survive in now because 50% of everything’s dead in it. So it is quite hard to scrape together enough food out there. It is harsh to try and survive there now. But back in the day, it was incredibly abundant, and you only needed to do about two hours of work a day and then that was it. The rest was for the important things in life.
Jim: That’s something we’ll get to a little later, that issue of why the hell are we working so hard on things that are like just total bullshit, right? But first I want to jump back into some actual words from your book, which I think tee up the discussion in an interesting way, and this overlaps a bit with our discussion from last time in a little bit more general terms.
Jim: This is Emu is a troublemaker who brings into being the most destructive idea in existence. I am greater than you. You are less than me. This is the source of all human misery. Aboriginal society has designed over thousands of years to deal with this problem. Some people are just idiots and everyone has a bit of idiot in them from time to time coming from some deep place inside that whispers, “You are special. You are greater than other people and things. You are more important than everything and everyone. All things and all people exist to serve you.”
Jim: This behavior needs massive checks and balances to contain the damage it can do. Containing the excesses of malignant narcissist is a team effort.
Tyson: Well, I mean the entire Australian Aboriginal society basically was designed over millennia to deal with that problem, and I think in any Game B kind community, really that’s what you have to deal with first. You have to design everything around. So everything from your social norms, to your just different cultural expressions, to your rules, to your kinship, to all your structures, your institutions, everything has to be designed to check narcissism. Even the language you speak. Everything has got to be holding that in check and has got to be punishing it harshly as soon as it appears, but not punishing it in a nasty way, but in a way that’s designed to transform you, the transgressor, and everybody else that’s involved in the punishment as well. Everybody learns everybody transforms.
Tyson: We discussed that criminology of that last time.
Jim: We did go into the criminology stuff last time [crosstalk 00:23:05].
Tyson: Yeah, narcissism is the thing it is that seed. And you know that the emu story, at the start of creation, all the stories talk about that emu and he’s often, or she as well, is often that one who’s making that mess. That first one who has that, “Look at me, look at me, I’m the best. I should be the boss of everybody.”
Tyson: So it’s that first injunction against people seeking to be the boss or to place themselves over. And what blows me away is that the traditional symbol, the Sand Talk symbol, so you know what you draw in the sand or paint on the rock wall or whatever, the symbol for that is exactly the same as the mathematical greater than sign.
Jim: That’s quite interesting.
Tyson: Yeah, I just thought that was an amazing little congruence happening there, that the mathematical greater than sign is also the sign for this being who invented that first malicious thought that’s the source of all human misery.
Jim: Yeah and that goes all the way back.
Jim: One of my favorite books, people that listen to the podcast have heard me mention it before, but it makes exactly the same point about other cultures, called Hierarchy In The Forest, The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior by Chris Boehm, and he does an amazing job of looking at numerous forager societies, pre-agricultural societies. And he discovered something very interesting that all of them that survived any length of time, and he admits that probably a bunch didn’t, developed cultural methods to suppress big men, basically, and he also then looks at the genetic record and behaviors of our chimp and bonobo ancestors, both of whom are way more hierarchical than humans are at their hunter/gatherer, at their forager stages. And he essentially argues that forager level civilization was principally about bringing that-
Jim: [inaudible 00:25:00] level civilization was principally about bringing down people who thought they were greater than everybody else.
Jim: And that’s a worldwide pattern for all societies that existed for any extended period of time.
Tyson: But then at the same time. So in our cultures, you do provide for that, because sometimes you have emergent situations or projects that come out that demand some kind of a hierarchy. Temporary hierarchy.
Jim: And we talked about that in the GameB. The word we use, I’d love to hear how it relates to the language that your people use. We distinguished between role-based leadership and position-based leadership.
Jim: Position-based leadership is, “Hey, I’m the manager of the butt-fucking department, or something, and I organize all the butt-fucking over all time, whether I know anything about butt-fucking or not.” Right? Well, a role-based leadership would be, “We’re going on a difficult hunt against a mammoth here. And Tyson is the biggest baddest mammoth hunter in the group and knows the most about it.”
Tyson: “Somebody’s going to butt-fuck that mammoth.”
Jim: Exactly. And Tyson’s the only guy crazy enough to do it!
Tyson: So he’s in charge.
Jim: For the mammoth butt-fucking expedition. That’s role-based leadership.
Jim: And when the butt-fucking is done, he’s no longer the leader. He was the man for the job, so by acclamation, he’s the leader. We all listened to him till the job’s done.
Tyson: Yeah, it’s all contextual. So I mean, everything’s contextual in our culture. It’s like the dynamic subordination are you talking about? And the Navy seals do it and they have to do it in an instant, no matter how many stripes you’ve got on your shoulder, back on the ship, when you’re in action, you need to be able to change as the terrain changes, as the weather changes. It might start snowing. And then suddenly well Jim, you take point, we’ll listen to you because you’re the snow scape dude. And that’s the way it goes.
Tyson: You’ve got to be able to switch in the moment, particularly because I was telling you about those kinds of maps of the landscape. Everybody has a role for speaking for different parts of that landscape within your territory. So each family has places there. So a side of the river that they speak for, and that people will need to ask their permission, if they want to do things there, or they will need to defer to that person, when you’re moving through that part of the river, but you might be on the other side of the river and that’s your uncle’s side there.
Tyson: So, you defer to him, and if he’s not there, then everybody in the group’s going to defer to you because he’s your uncle. And so you’re inheriting that place from him. So you speak for that place and people will have to follow you, but then you move around the river bend and you go up the Hill, well, who speaks for those Hills, who has that story? And so on and so forth. So as you move across the landscape, you’re constantly shifting in your leadership roles, dynamic subordination.
Jim: It’s all drawn back to the physical. And again, that’s such a interesting and different way of organizing the collective knowledge. Yeah. The other, other thing I wanted to probe into a little bit about collective knowledge, as you many times, reference your interactions with elders and you even confess that, due to your own personal autobiography, you never went through the manhood ritual, so in terms of hierarchy in elder-ness – not really hierarchy, it’s a different kind of relationship, and I’d love you to talk about that – you’re still a 13 year old kid. Right. And so what does an elder and how does, how does that elderhood work and how would you distinguish it between Western style position based leadership or the boss of the butt-fuckers, organizes all the butt fucking he doesn’t even know anything about it, right?
Tyson: Yeah. Well, it’s, it’s funny because that elderhood, we’ve kind of taken that on board, but it’s kind of something that’s been mapped over most cultures that have been colonized. So you’ll see it in India. You’ll see it. Even with your African slave descendants in America, all that sort of stuff. They’re always called uncle Tom or auntie this, and it’s the same in India. There’s this kind of, this idea of elderhood that’s Western, that’s been imposed on the top and a lot of people have really internalized that model.
Tyson: But it is a lot more dynamic than that. You don’t just become an elder when you reach a certain age and weight. Because you know, that would just be positional authority again. You don’t do that. The people who have shown that they have that discipline, that they can suppress the narcissism and really, really reach those higher levels of knowledge.
Tyson: And knowledge is our capital, and you don’t get to accumulate it unless you pass every test along the way. There’s also positional things. So I’m a younger sibling, and so that’s my older brother. He’s the one who speaks for all that knowledge. And I know that I speak for that as a younger sibling, also as somebody who hasn’t been initiated, that makes things different as well, especially when I go around with other groups, but a lot of people my age and younger are not initiated now anyway, because that’s not happening anymore.
Jim: No. Why not? I mean, when we think about GameB, one of the things that we’re softly specifying and what comes next is there needs to be these initiations, particularly on that step from adulthood. And it probably ought to be a hell of a lot younger than 21, or 18, even.
Tyson: Well again, for most of the continent though, it stopped happening because you get shot or whipped or you’d have your children taken away or you’d be thrown in a truck and moved to the other side of the continent if you participated in any cultural rituals of that kind.
Tyson: So they were illegal for a long time, right up until very recently. So for a lot of people, it was because of that. But for my family’s community, it’s that a swimming pool was built on the initiation ground a few decades ago. So yeah, that was it.
Tyson: And that’s the first age initiation right there. So as soon as that was built there, that tradition was finished.
Jim: That’s too bad.
Tyson: So no young men can go through those ceremonies anymore. But it’s sort of shifted. We adapt.
Tyson: Now it’s jail is the Rite of passage for young men. You know, you go to jail and strangely enough, when you’re in jail, you learn a lot of cultural things. There’s workshops and you learn to do indigenous art and you do lots of dancing and all that sort of thing. And you learn other criminal sort of activities and become a bit of a gangster. And then you’re unleashed back into the world. So that’s the right of passage now for a lot of men.
Jim: Doesn’t sound like it’s necessarily the best.
Tyson: It’s not the best, but you adapt to use whatever you’ve got, what’s available to you, I guess. But yeah. So there are… It’s not really a hierarchy. It’s just that you, you, there’s a lot of secret and very sacred knowledge, the can’t just be thrown around for anybody. So you have keepers of that knowledge who only earn the right to keep that knowledge through being very dedicated throughout their life towards that. And you know, you have to go through different stages of initiation every 15 years to get the next layer. It’s like getting your high school diploma, and then getting your bachelor degree, and then then doing your honors or a master’s, and then doing a doctorate, and then doing post-doctorate work. It’s pretty much the same as that.
Tyson: I mean, if you don’t have the tools to take on that knowledge or the right personality traits, then you’re not going to get it. But then it doesn’t matter if you don’t get it anyway, because you’re still a highly valued member of the group anyway. Nobody’s above you and no one’s below you because you’re not special. And that’s what you learn in that first initiation, which I’ve gone through the early stages of that now. Yeah. And I had to go to another place to start doing that, but yeah, what you come out from that with is a strong sense that you are not special, but then at the same time, nobody else is that special either, but that you will belong to something special.
Jim: Yep. Damn near the center of the issue. In fact, other quote from the book is, “Perhaps the transferable wisdom here is simply that most young men need something a little meatier than mindfulness workshops to curtail the terrifying narcissism that overtakes them from the moment their balls drop.”
Tyson: Every male at 13, 14, maybe even 12, pretty much needs to be isolated into a very different group of people and should not be emerging until the 18, 19, or something like that. Yeah. Some of the most destructive people on the planet are 15 year old boys.
Jim: Some of the most interesting too, Right? I always said, if I ever were to teach school, I would take on eighth graders or ninth graders. 13, 14, 15 years old. There’s something real about them, right? At least there was, from what they’re trying to do to kids in our American schools, at least, they’re trying to break them. Right. You can’t do anything anymore. They’ll call the police. If you get into a little fist fight, what the fuck, right?
Tyson: Yeah. That’s it, that’s another quote in the book is, “If you want to find the next generation of great thinkers, you look in the detention room of any high school.”
Jim: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. I always think of that life is sweaty and meaty. Real life. Right? And of course it pisses off the powers that be, and then sort of finish up on this idea of, “I am greater than you,” you tie that back to a Christian myth and you call it the Luciferian lie. You know, again, Lucifer, Satan, at least in the later stories that are told. There’s a little bit in the Bible, but a lot of it was stuff written in the medieval times that allegedly, Satan came about when the greatest angel rebelled against God saying that I’m greater than you.
Tyson: Yeah. It’s just, and then he fell, and there’s always this idea of the fall of man. And every culture has its mythology around that, even Cain and Abel, that was about that with the first people. And I guess even the original sin, Garden of Eden, all that sort of thing. All these things are always about that moment of narcissism of thinking that you can be greater than you are and greater than other things around you, that you could have knowledge over, dominion over all these kinds of things.
Jim: Yeah. There’s an interesting part of Cane and Abel that most people didn’t notice in the story, Abel was a herdsman of sheep while Kane was a dirt farmer. Isn’t that interesting?
Tyson: Yeah, that’s it too.
Jim: Yeah. Very few people notice that in the story.
Tyson: Yeah, well pastoralism is sustainable. With that kind of thing, shepherds and flocks, maintaining grasslands in perpetuity like that. Pastoralism is a way of life that can be sustainable, but yeah, that intensive agriculture that’s, that’s always been a bad idea.
Jim: And one of the problems of course, is it locks you into owning a particular parcel of land. This is mine, my square of land is greater than yours. So we get back to this greater than issue again.
Jim: yeah. So the one is possible and there are societies that have organized the use of land in a much more commons-oriented approach. And I do think that’s an approach that’s worth thinking about in the future, is how can we become commoners on the land, even if we are still stuck doing agriculture for a while because of the number of people that we have?
Tyson: The penny just dropped on the origin possibly of the word commoners. Aristocrats used to refer to peasants as commoners didn’t they?
Jim: They did, they did.
Tyson: Yeah. Maybe it was because they were working the commons.
Jim: Ah, I had not thought of that. That is a very interesting thought. I’m going to follow up on that after the show and see if those two can get together. I recently did a podcast, I think it’ll be out on Monday, maybe, with Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation. And he is one of the biggest promoters of the idea of the commons, and that the commons is what we have lost and what we need to regain. And I think that’s going to be part of thinking about what comes next may not be the only way we live in a more complicated and complex world. We’ll get to the distinction between complicated and complex here in a minute or two, because you do have-
Tyson: We’re way too complicated. There’s somewhere in Melbourne, we walked past the other day and we saw that it was commons that a community had set up behind a big fence with chains and padlocks on it. And it just looked beautiful in there. And so we’re walking along with the kids and we’re, “Oh, can we come in and have a look at this?” But no, they wouldn’t let us in. So well, I think right there, your commons are not commons and what you created is a closed system, you bastards, and we know what happens in closed systems. Entropy. Yeah. I hope your zucchinis fall off the bloody vine.
Jim: Second law of thermodynamics.
Jim: Yeah. A book with a lot of this.
Tyson: Test it out on your commons, you.
Jim: That should be a warning to people who think that they’re commoners, right. If your systems aren’t open. In fact Elinor Ostrom does talk about that. The systems have to be open, but on the other hand, then this will come back to the management of the commons, my argument is you have to have a semi permeable membrane, right?
Jim: The people who have the commons have to allow things in and out, but they need to make some socially informed decisions about what passes through, right? For instance, no sociopaths would be my rule inside my comments and that we’d have some means to keep them out. Cause if you don’t, the Raider is going to come and steal your zucchinis whether they’re healthy or not. Any attempt to say all is fully open to all is probably not correct.
Jim: I mean, that’s not how any complex system works. Any complex system that manages to get any real level of complexity has membranes around it, but they’re not closed. If they’re closed as you, as you point out quite brilliantly, then the second law of thermodynamics rules. And basically it’s just headed for the shit pile either sooner or later. But if you’re open, you exchange energy and material with the outside world and information, and so long as the outside world has fluxes of energy and matter, that are way larger than your container, then you can go on inside your container forever.
Tyson: Yeah, that’s it. But I don’t know. You might utilize your sociopaths, too. There’s another thing. I mean, they got to have some useful and generalizable skills, so I mean they can do all the butchering for example. Because they have that special gift where they can gut something without even their heart rate going up, so that’s pretty good. So you’ve got someone in the community who’s not going to be being traumatized by having to butcher an animal. So you get them to do that work.
Tyson: And then I guess if a true psychopath comes through, then you send your sociopath after him, and say, “Hey, we’re going to need you to take that guy out.” Yeah. And then they’d feel, they’d feel highly valued for their sociopathy and they might be content with that. You just don’t let them near the kids.
Jim: Yeah. That’s interesting. That was one of the arguments that actually, sociopathy seems to be about 1% of the population worldwide in most cultures. And one of the argument is why has it lasted? And the answer is it does have some utility, perhaps in war. I hadn’t thought of the one about dealing with otherwise emotionally disturbing work like slaughter. Though I’ve slaughtered so damn many deer over the years that I got over my squeamishness probably about number five or six, something like that. But certainly initially it took a lot of emotional energy to get yourself to do it, but probably a sociopath would be better at that.
Tyson: You’d want him on the walls, like he’s a sociopath, sure, but he’s our sociopath.
Jim: Yeah. Well of course, one of the disturbing things about Westerns, which I talk about regularly on the show is that if probably only 1% of people in the West sociopath and they’d be a little more because of the fucked-up-ness of our way of life, but in positions of authority, it’s way higher than that. My estimate having played at pretty high levels in corporate America on Wall Street, and even in the White House when I was young, is at sort of the C level suites in corporate America. I’d say 10% of those people are sociopaths. It’s really dangerous to let sociopathy get control of levers in role-based leadership. I mean, not role-based in position-based leadership. Yeah.
Tyson: That’s why you have to have checks and balances throughout your culture, throughout your language, throughout all your institutions. At every level you’ve got to have those checks and balances and that’s, like I said, it’s a team effort.
Jim: And as you said earlier, we talked about a little bit in passing, but I just remembered it from the book, is that the elders, one of their super powers that they develop is to detect narcissistic behavior in people and to refuse to deal with them while they’re showing the narcissistic behavior.
Tyson: Yeah. That’s it now frustrating for a sociopath if they can’t gain access to the social goods, to the capital of your culture, which is knowledge. Because sociopath’s always want to do well. They always want to rise. So, they’re going to have to really hold that in check if they ever want to have access to that knowledge. Otherwise they’ll just… No sociopath wants to be a child forever.
Jim: Indeed. That basically highlights potential control mechanism. All right. We have our sociopaths at 1% and they have some utility, but how do we keep them away from the levers of power? Maybe one of the ways is that those who hold the wisdom refuse to pass it on when they detect sociopathy or they pass on a special useful for sociopaths.
Tyson: And also just make sure that there are many, many Le levers of power and they’re widely distributed throughout the group.
Jim: And that they’re transient, I would argue, yeah.
Tyson: Transient. Yeah.
Jim: You said you’re on a journey and you’re in your uncle’s area for a part of it and you’re in your grandfather’s area for another part of it. And then you’re out in the part where nobody has geographic authority. So it’s not one boss all the time that starts to dominate people.
Jim: Well, let’s see. What do we talk about next? This one’s a bit later in my notes, but let’s just talk about it now because I think it’s related and this is what you talk about in the book, in the area of applied complexity, talk about a fair amount, which is the distinction between complex and complicated.
Tyson: Yeah. And, and even just on your show, I’ve heard different people coming on with completely opposite views of which is which. I’ve heard some people describe complexity as complicated and complicated as complex, and I I’ve heard you describe it as the difference between the dancer and the dance.
Jim: Now I would call that between reductionism and complexity. A little different, the dancer is what you get from reductionism and the dance is complexity.
Tyson: Yeah. Well, to me complicated is a system that is tinkered and that needs to be constantly tinkered with, upgraded, mended, that it doesn’t have that, that autopoesis going on, it can’t heal itself. It can’t go through periods of homeostasis and historesis, that it’s just like this computer that we couldn’t get to work at the start of the interview. And once it’s stuffed, it’s stuffed, that’s it.
Jim: Not like a boomerang that if it’s not shaped quite right, you can file it down a little bit until it is,
Tyson: And it’s not going to heal itself. It’s just, we just had to turn it off and turn it back on again. And I’m going to have to take it in to the shop now and get it fixed. Cause it’s playing up, so they’re going to have to update it and they’re going to have to do all the other tinker-y things that they need to do with all the ones and zeros to make it run properly. And you know, to me, that’s, that’s a complicated thing.
Jim: Yeah. I think that’s exactly right. The example I use for complicated versus complex, I can even actually have two I’d love to get your reaction to it. One is a classic complicated system is an industrial farm that involves pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, tractors, hiring armies of pickers in the picking season that you pay for with cash, taxes that you have to pay, bank loans, et cetera. Like your computer it’s an intricate system. And if any one part fails significantly, you’re fucked, right? As compared to let’s say a Woodlands, you know where my farm is for instance, until the Chestnut blight came in the 1930s brought from elsewhere, these lands were amazingly rich in chestnuts. 50% of the trees were huge chestnut trees. Chestnuts are very rich and fatty nuts and they’d fall to the ground every fall. And they would be this amazing food for the deer.
Jim: And even when we had bison and elk in this Eastern area prior to Western agriculture appearing, and there are other food sources as well, there’s acorns, that’s the second biggest crop. And there’s several different kinds. Even today on our farm, we have 10 different kinds of Oak trees and some years the white Oaks produce real well. Other years, the red Oak, some years, the black Oak, some years the Chestnut Oaks. And so there’s no one solid failure mode. It’s a robust system and you have big game like deer and bear. We still have both. Then you have smaller game like rabbits and groundhogs. And in a pinch you could live off the rabbits in the ground and the squirrels, if for some reason something happened.
Tyson: The pigs must like that too.
Jim: Oh fortunately we don’t have wild pigs here yet. They tear the shit out of things. But, and during settler times, one of the interesting things is we did have a commons, and in fact we still have the legal basis for it. Our county’s what’s called a fence out County, which means if you don’t want somebody else’s animals on your land, it’s your obligation to put up a fence, to keep them out. And people are still in theory allowed to let their animals wander. And so in settler times they used to let the pigs out into this Chestnut forest every fall, and then they didn’t have to go round them up a couple of weeks later and they’d be big and fat, let me tell you, after doing nothing but gorging on chestnuts for two or three weeks.
Jim: But anyway, so the distinction between, you know, mature forest on one side and industrial agriculture on the other is, to my mind, a classic distinction between complicated being the industrial farm and complex being a natural mature forest.
Tyson: And the complicated just can’t be sustained, there’s this obsolescence in it that can’t be denied. I guess it comes back to that entropy thing again.
Tyson: I used to stand at a place, it was on a table land and there was a road there. You could stand on the road and you could look on one side where the people who owned that, they’d cut down every single tree so that it was just pasture. Because they wanted to maximize the pasture. And it was a very, very thin pasture with some very skinny, sick look and sheep on it. And it was like a dust bowl there, it was just dead and dry.
Tyson: And then on the other side of the road, they’d left the trees in. So you had very big old growth trees there and the pasture was magnificent, because the trees are doing things there, they’re that bringing up and sharing nutrients, they’re breaking up the rocks down deep and bringing up phosphorus and all kinds of things. So the soil on one side of the road was beautiful and the pasture was very rich and the sheep were very fat. And then on the other side of the road, the sheep were sick and dying because of the tinkered, complicated bloody system they put there. And you know, they’re always out there spraying super phosphate, you know, around trying to coax some more life out of the dead ground. But yeah, that ground was finished.
Jim: Yeah. It’s a very unfortunate what we’ve done with our soils under cultivation.
Jim: Very unfortunate, what we’ve done with our soils under cultivation. And it’s been accelerating very, very rapidly since about 1950, with exactly the things you’re talking about, the glyphosates, which produce for a while high productivity because to get rid of the weeds, but unfortunately you kill the microbiome in the soil. Typically the fungus, which is really where the energy gets marshaled, made available for other plant life. We don’t use that stuff on our farm and we have kept over 50% of the land in forests.
Jim: For just those reasons. And when we do use fertilizer, we use turkey shit for fertilizer-
Jim: … from a turkey house nearby. And it provides energy to the plants, but it also provides a tremendous boost to the microorganisms in the soil. When we bought this place, had been abused and overgrazed, and all kinds of stuff for 100 years. And there was no worms in the soil, that was a sign of no health. Today, you put a shovel to the soil and unless it’s during a drought, you pull up one shovel full of soil and you probably have 10 or 20 earthworms.
Tyson: Yeah, that sounds good.
Jim: Yeah, they’re part of that cycle. It’s very, very important to say the least. All right, let’s move on to another topic, which is the idea of a custodial species. Again, I think this is one of these things that’s calling to me that I don’t quite understand, but saying there’s something right about this. In the book several times, you talk about the fact that humans, at least at the moment are the custodial species for the earth. Tell us about that, and what does that mean?
Tyson: Yeah. Well, that comes out a lot of our old stories from all over. It’s our purpose for being here. Our emergence in this system has been because the system had need of a custodial species for its long longevity, but also to maintain increase within the system. So increase as opposed to growth. So not growing in the size of the system, but increasing the relatedness within the system, all of the connectivity, those infinite combinatorials, we’re supposed to oversee that. And about everything we do is supposed to work in with that, our culture, everything else, it’s not supposed to be something that’s separate from nature. There isn’t even supposed to be a separate concept for nature because we are nature. We occupy a very important ecological niche. It’s not an apex niche or anything like that either.
Tyson: We have a very important ecological niche. We’re supposed to be in this habitat, and anywhere where we’re not there, you might think of it as untouched wilderness, but that place will be dying because it needs us there. Those trees have evolved over a long time to even just need our urine. If you’re not pissing on the ground in those places, those plants will be suffering over time and you’ll see dieback in places, and wonder why is there a dieback happening there? And I’m looking at it and thinking, well, that needs a couple of decades of people pissing on those trees to make that place work again. And to be bringing shellfish and things up from the coast and sitting down and camping there because, those the things that are coming in from there. That environment is depending on us bringing those things into it just in our cultural practice, taking fish from the river and eating it there. I guess the same way with the bears and the salmon, those forests need those salmon there and the bears eating the salmon off in the trees because the trees have come to depend on what’s coming out of the salmon.
Tyson: It’s the same thing. Yeah. So I always say like, people, tree huggers, I say, “Don’t hug a tree. If you want to help, piss on the tree. The tree doesn’t need your hugs, it needs your urine. So do that.” All these symbiosis, I keep coming back to it. I was thinking about the ticks earlier, and how they only get out of control, and those parasites within them that create Lyme disease, et cetera, they only get out of control when things are out of balance. It’s the same with all these pathogens that are created. Viruses are there for a reason, they have an evolutionary purpose. They help change things at the genetic level, and they help to bring things in balance with a constantly changing landscape, that’s what they’re there for.
Tyson: I did some work for a company, and basically what they did was they’d go whenever a big corporation was shamed over some terrible thing it did and wanted to improve its image through philanthropic works, this company were going to design interventions that they could do in third world countries to sharpen up their image a bit, put in a million dollars to help this. Yeah. One company decided they wanted to stop malaria in a particular place in Africa where the mosquitoes were killing a lot of people. Yeah. I did some consulting for that group. I really loved the solution that came out in the end. What they did was they fixed the river. So they removed the dam that had caused the river to slow and stagnate, and they cleared the river of all the rubbish and blockages, and cause it to flow clean again. And once the river was flowing as it was supposed to, the mosquito problem was gone. So rather than, “Oh, how are we going to get all these medications into this community? And who’s going to pay for it?” And all that sort of stuff. Instead, they just fixed the river, and then they fixed the pathogen, they fixed the health problem and the malaria. And so it’s all these imbalances.
Jim: Yeah. You used that word a lot. And I think it should resonate for us if we’re starting to think about this idea of custodial species. I’m going to play this back to you. You can tell me if I’m full of shit or not. Is that the custodial species job is actually to help fine tune the balance, right? To be a helper in the domain of the complex, rather than a builder of the complicated that tries to dominate the complex.
Tyson: Yeah. And to adapt with change, but then also assist the system to transition in times of change as well. Yeah. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. It’s more than a caretaker. A custodian, it’s a very deep role. And I think it’s a good thing for people to think about, meditate on a little bit. You’d be surprised what might fall out of that kind of thinking. A nice way to think of ourselves too, because we’re really, we’re branding ourselves badly, human beings, with all our language and everything around the Anthropocene, and all this sort of stuff like it’s caused by human nature somehow, that it’s in our natures to destroy all this. But it’s not us doing it. It’s not our community activities and our way of life or anything like that. Communities aren’t producing all of this waste and toxicities.
Tyson: It’s the big clunky, tinkered, complicated systems that have been set up around us. It’s all these industries, these are the things that are using up all the water, and creating all the waste, and owning all this land, and locking it off. And that’s a terrible thing. There’s something like there’s only 20% of the habitat left on the planet, and that is in dire trouble. Because, yes, there’s a lot of toxicity going in and out of those, so they’re not unpolluted. But also in those untouched wilderness areas or natural places, they’re kind of like these islands of death because they’re not free to exchange uncontaminated matter across between different bio-regions and different systems. They’re just surrounded, pretty much like, I don’t know, the US military around Russia or something. Yeah. Completely surrounded, and nothing can get in or out. Yeah. So you got all these national parks that are just slowly dying.
Jim: Yep. And these things are driven by systems upon systems. At least in my analysis in the West, the core system is this damn money on money return, where the inner loop is this drive to make money grow and in the short term, meaning less than three years. And we have our businesses driven by that. We have, frankly, our family work. Why do we need to have two full-time people working 40 hours a week to do what forager level people did two to four hours a day with one person, or actually two people, let me take that back.
Tyson: It’s become a cultural thing too, we’re we’re all speculating on our own individual futures. We’re all withdrawing on our relationships, and our time, and constantly building our skills, and all these kinds of things to speculate on our personal futures. And everybody is this isolated individual trying to do that. So we’ve taken on this Ponzi scheme at the level of the cultural DNA of our everyday lives, we’re enacting the pattern over and over. And I guess that’s that horrendous narcissistic pattern again.
Jim: And it’s having a feedback loop that is really manifesting itself in bad ways. One of the things you talked about is avatar depression. Talk about that for us. That was a very interesting idea actually.
Tyson: Yeah. It just makes me laugh, that one. I was just trying to come up with a theory as to why we had to wait for so long for a sequel to the first avatar movie. And I figured it was all these psychologists had to get the medication right to treat the avatar depression. And when I read the article on that, I just laughed and laughed. That’s a real thing, it’s a real psychological, it’s a medical condition, is people who watch Avatar and then just give up on their life because they see, they catch this really beautiful vision of a connected, vibrant existence, completely immersed in a landscape and a culture that has honor in it, and dignity. And they see that and then they look at their own life and they go, “Oh, fuck. I don’t want to do this anymore.” Yeah. There was a lot of a-motivated people coming out of it and, yeah, they had to try and figure out how to treat it because it was millions of people who were succumbing to it. I guess they had to get the medication right before they released the sequel.
Jim: And of course the third part, we have the beautiful blue people, we have our own society. Then we also of course have the theme of the movie, which is the mining monster destroying the blue people. What the fuck are we doing, right? I could see how that could rock people into a bad place.
Tyson: Yeah. Trying to obtain the unobtanium.
Jim: Yeah. Unobtanium, exactly, right? The rat race. Yeah. My friend Brett Weinstein calls this system Goliath, right? And it’s not something anybody controls. That’s the interesting thing. It’s a meme space entity, meme in the Dawkins sense, not the sense of a picture of a cat smoking a cigarette. But it’s a series of ideas and signals, which are kind of like a standing, like a wave in a river. The waves always there, but the water floats through and nobody actually made the wave, it’s an emergent result of the action of the water. So Goliath is a emergent result of our system of systems, with at least in my view, money on money return at the center. But fortunately, because there is no one in charge, it means that if we can change our systems in a major way we can maybe make Goliath be a lot less hideous than he is today.
Tyson: Yeah. Or just get you a little sociopath kid with a slingshot to put a nice round rock between his eyes.
Jim: Exactly. And there is one called the debt jubilee, right?
Tyson: Oh, yeah.
Jim: The debt jubilee will bring down Goliath-
Tyson: And do you reckon that’s ever going to happen, a debt Jubilee?
Jim: I don’t know. I’ve been keeping that stone in my sling for a number of years. And in fact there’s a very cool concept called the jubilee ratchet, which makes it really work, which is that you threaten the jubilee. And if you think about debt, there’s an interest, there’s two parts of interest. One is the time value of money, right? So essentially, call it the interest rate on a high quality government bond, governments are getting a little shakier, but until recently you could call it that. But the other is the risk of the investment not getting repaid, right? So a person who has bad credit, they pay a higher interest rate. Well guess what? If you start talking about the jubilee and lots of people start talking about it, and investors start believing there’s at least a chance. Let’s say it’s only a 5% chance in the next five years that the jubilee could happen. You know what that does? That adds 1% to the interest rate for all loans.
Tyson: Yeah. Just talking about it.
Jim: Just talk about, it’s called the jubilee ratchet. So it’s actually probably the biggest thing I have ever invented in my life. The jubilee-
Tyson: All you have to do to mess with the economy is mess with confidence.
Jim: Exactly. And let’s supposed to what happens when it gets to 20% chance in five years, that adds 5% to the interest rate. And what does that do? It makes more people want to have a jubilee to get this God damn monkey off their back, right? And that feeds back at a positive feedback loop. And eventually-
Jim: … I’ve done some simulations on it, when you get to the end game, it takes about six weeks to crush the system.
Tyson: Oh, my goodness. Yeah. You need to deploy that.
Jim: Not yet. There’s-
Tyson: I know. But I talk about, it’s so funny, I talk about old man, [inaudible 01:04:29] in the book. And there’s a sacred rock in a really secret place. And he reckons, if anybody ever touches that rock, like just puts their hand on it it’ll be the end of the world. It’ll be a cataclysm. And it’s just every now and then he’ll be watching the news, and you just see him mutter, “I might go touch that rock.”
Jim: I can understand that.
Tyson: I think you’re sitting on something similar there, but that would definitely do some good. Yeah.
Jim: Yep. Check it out. If you want to read about the jubilee ratchet, the early work we did before GameB was something called The Emancipation Party. And the core of The Emancipation Party was actually to deploy the jubilee ratchet. And it’s written up in great and scary detail at EmancipationParty.org. So what the hell, I’m going to sort of let it loose, I’m not going to deploy it.
Tyson: Oh, my God. Yeah. No. But just let it go out in spore mode into the world and see what happens.
Tyson: Just the idea itself. It’s really interesting, ideas five years ago that were crazy like a UBI. Nobody would [inaudible 01:05:35] that five years ago. Now people are considering it quite seriously now.
Jim: Yep. In fact, our Emancipation Party had a UBI in 2012. We called it the Citizenship Wage. Where every citizen would get $10,000 a year, I think it was. And every child over four would get 5,000. The word UBI didn’t even exist, but we invented it. We thought it made such obvious sense. I’m going to leap a little bit here from the modern, and the tinkering, and fucking, and hacking with finance to more indigenous ideas. One of the things that came up again and again in the book, and for me was an eye opener, was the importance of stone and rocks in your society. In fact, I have a cool quote here. This is from Max, one of the people you talked with, “Stones to me are the objects that parallel all life, more so than trees or mortal things, because stones are almost immortal. They know things learned over deep times. Stones represent earth tools and spirit. It conveys meaning through its use and through its resilience to the elements, at the same time at ages cracking and eroding as time wears it down. But it’s still there filled with energy and spirit.” Yeah. Just rap a little bit, a little on stone and its important, and how meaningful it is to your people.
Tyson: Yeah. It’s really essential to everything. I guess here’s the thing in any complex system, that there is self-organization that’s going on in that system. And so in our way of looking at the world, there’s knowledge in that system, that that system has knowledge, and that all of its parts, all the nodes there, they connect up, and they contain part of that knowledge. Each node in the system contains a part of that knowledge, every single entity. So a being is not just a human being, there’s also the animals, there’s the plants, but also a whirlwind, or a king tide, or all these kinds of things. That these are all things that contain elements of the pattern in there, which is knowledge. And so from that point of view, a rock is sentient, a rock contains knowledge, a rock contains living spirit.
Tyson: Yeah. So therefore it’s something that needs to be treated with respect, especially because it’s an entity that lives for so long. You can’t just pick up a rock from anywhere and take it home with you because the spirit of that rock, you don’t know what the nature of that spirit is. So we have lots of stories here. Still now you sit around the campfire, if you’re talking to somebody, there’ll always be a story of a family member they’ve had, who’s done the wrong thing and picked up a rock and taken it home, and ended up going crazy, or dying, or getting tormented by spirits or something like this. So there’s this idea of very carefully approaching rocks, and utilizing rocks, and respecting them as things that contain knowledge, and they’re a part of the system.
Tyson: Yeah. They’re constantly being cycled through the earth, and created, and recreated in the same way that we are. And the trees that’ll leave with them are from deep down and they bring up everything that we need for life, phosphorus and all kinds of things. Yeah. I don’t know. It’s just this idea, if you’re expanding the idea of what your mind is and linking it out, maybe you can understand that haptic cognition and recognize a tool as an extension of your hand, and that there’s neural processes going on in that. And then you can recognize that your mind is actually going throughout your body. That there’s that awareness. And then that, yeah, it’s also going out into the tools, the other things that you’re making with that tool. And so then you have an object that’s separate from you.
Tyson: And then you come to realize that, well, the people that you are in relation to you, that you’re carrying knowledge in that relationship. It’s not just in that person’s mind or just in your mind, but the knowledge you create and share together, you’re actually sharing in a relational space between you, it’s that neuro basins warm data, I guess, it’s like that, that the knowledge is in those relationships. Yeah. So you come to understand all those nodes as containing knowledge, but then you come to realize that that’s not most of the knowledge, that most of the knowledge is in the relationships between all the nodes. It’s in these invisible lines of what we’d understand as spirit that goes throughout the system like that.
Jim: And that is of course the duality of reality. We have objects and we have relationships, and neither can exist by themselves. And reductionist science and the more abhorrent varieties of Western civilization focus overly on the object and forget the relationships. And yet without the relationships you don’t have anything.
Tyson: Yeah, that’s it. I could tell you a story about a particularly sentient rock.
Jim: Do it.
Tyson: I guess I’ve almost been radicalized by that old man, [inaudible 00:20:48], who I share a lot of his symbols in the book that he wants to go out into the world to as many people as possible. Because he believes it’ll do this ritual action that’ll change people at the molecular level. And man I’ve even got Jim Rutt saying he feels like his DNA has been changed after seeing these things, so that must be real. There’s a rock out in a bay up Darwin there, and there’s a beacon that’s been placed on that. So it’s a steel beacon that’s been hammered into the rock. And he says that’s damaging a lot of things, just that bacon being there. It’s blocking the work that that rock does for us.
Tyson: So that rock is a sentient part of that system. And the tasks that that rock does can no longer be done because of that beacon there. And so there’s a blockage there of spirit. And one of the tasks that he’s given me to perform in my lifetime is to somehow perform some kind of act of domestic terrorism and remove that beacon from that rock. And when I finally went out to that place to see it, I saw there’s a military base right beside it on the shore. And I’m like, “Oh, man, I’m not just going to get arrested for this. I’m going to get shot. This is insane.” Terrible, yeah. So rocks are a really important part, like they’re very large rocks, big geological features. But the small ones as well, they’re a very important part of our cosmology. But see, that’s getting into the spirit side of things, Jim.
Jim: We’ll talk-
Tyson: That’s not your favorite business.
Jim: Well, it’s actually, I love to talk about it, right? But as you know I am skeptical of it.
Tyson: Well, if you think of it as just a different cultural metaphor for a lot of the same things you’re talking about.
Jim: Yeah. That’s cool, and that I understand.
Tyson: I’m very comfortable talking about spirit, but that’s why I’m a novice with complexity theory. But I’ve learned as many of the terms as I can so that I can use those metaphors when I speak to people because people who are from that culture. So I want to respect them by using the metaphors of their culture to talk about. We’re talking about the same thing. I’m talking about spirit, but you’re talking about feedback loops, and we just have different metaphors for those things.
Jim: And information, and patterns, and things like that. There is one that maybe integrates our views, right, in a scientific, valid fashion. Do you know anything about Giulio Tononi integrated information theory?
Tyson: No, but that sounds really good.
Jim: This is very eerie stuff. Some of the leading cognitive science working on the problem of what is consciousness, Christof Koch, and Giulio Tononi, and James Crick was involved in it also for a while. Francis Crick? Whatever. The one that’s not Watson from the DNA. And they actually have a mathematical formalism called integrated information theory, IIT it’s usually known as, that all physical objects have some level of consciousness. And if you could do the math, which today we cannot, but we can approximate it, you can actually calculate the level of consciousness. And he starts with an example of a light switch and says, “A light switch has approximately X consciousness.” Right? “And a TV screen actually has not very much consciousness, but it has a little bit.” Right? And guess what? A rock has quite a bit more, a hell of a lot less than an ant, but it has some.
Jim: So Tononi and his collaborators have a mathematical description of consciousness in everything. It’s basically an integration between panpsychism and cognitive science. I would say it’s well worth a look.
Tyson: I know. I definitely need to get that.
Jim: Yeah. I’ll send you a link when we’re done.
Tyson: Please, yeah, put it in the-
Jim: I will say I am a little skeptical of some of its applications, but I do think it’s something we need to think about and talk about, right?
Jim: Yeah. So I famously complained about the S word, right? But it’s not the concept. I think when I read your book, I at first said, “Oh, this is going to be some moonshine and nonsense.” And said, “Fuck this.” Right? And then I read it. I realized we’re pretty much-
Jim: Said it, “Fuck this”, right. Then I read it, I realized we’re pretty much on the same page, right.
Tyson: Yeah yeah.
Jim: That it’s about relationships, it’s about systems, it’s about patterns, it’s about evolution, and it really isn’t necessarily, like you say somewhere in the book, that you don’t have to believe in ghosts, right?
Jim: My form of rejection of the S word is the ghosts part, the rest of it I get, and I appreciate, and I appreciate the fact that you explicitly called out that it’s possible to get this without believing in ghosts.
Tyson: Yeah, absolutely. When I’m describing our four parts of spirit, you don’t have to call it what we call it in our various languages, or even think of it like that. You can just quite easily have that idea of lizard brain, monkey, brain, et cetera, that way. You could use any metaphor you like. Look, I’ll talk to anybody because even the most insane ideas, they’ll spark thinking in different directions.
Tyson: I love talking to flat-Earthers. I love flat-Earthers. I get some of my best ideas from flat-Earthers. Their physics is bullshit. Your phone is not going to work with flat-Earth physics. They need to get some physicists and work out the math but then what a challenge. What would flat-Earth mathematics be like? What if you had to rearrange all of the physics and try and make those equations work? What if you had to? Just even attempting that impossible, ridiculous thought experiment, you might discover the next thing. It just might lead you off in a different direction and you might find the next thing. It’s always good to talk to different people and look at their ways of viewing the world.
Jim: You’re a better man than I.
Tyson: I’ve got no problem with flat-Earthers. They get all the girls too, flat-Earthers. If you want to learn about networking, you’ve got to talk to them, because they seem to have it down pat.
Jim: If they can sell that shit, they can sell anything, right?
Tyson: Yeah. They’re doing it all on machines that wouldn’t work if the world was actually flat but yeah, they seem to really have it down. They certainly know how to radicalize otherwise sane people pretty quickly. I wouldn’t mind learning how to do that.
Jim: Well, the ability to sell total horseshit, is quite a skill.
Jim: You did refute it with, I thought, was a very elegant example from physical realities as well. Maybe I’ll buy flat Earth-ism when somebody shows me a flat bubble.
Tyson: Yeah, blow me a flat bubble. I know.
Jim: Of course that shows an incredible knowledge, actually, of physics and chemistry and everything else, right. That a bubble is what will be formed as the most efficient in a three dimensional world.
Tyson: Yeah, that’s it. But then, even in just thinking about those ideas it just occurred to me that, that’d be a really good solution for packaging. If you could somehow have round packaging, you could get more volume of stuff into a smaller object.
Jim: Yeah, the surface area. It minimizes the amount of surface area and of course that’s one of the reasons we have cans for things. Because they’re halfway between a square and a sphere in terms of their efficiency. On the flip side, they don’t pack as well as squares. Everything has trade-offs, right? Everything has trade-offs.
Tyson: Yeah, that’s it. That’s it.
Jim: We’re having a good time here chatting but let’s, I want to hop ahead a little bit. Skip over some of these other neat little stories to some of the most important, I think, part of your work. That I really want to make sure it gets out into the world. One of them is that you have identified a few simple operating guidelines, sustainability agents, basically your set of diversify, connect, interact, and adapt. I would really like to spend a little bit of time going over those four. And your thoughts about what they are and why they’re so important for a sustainable agent, or sustainability agent. As part of a system that needs to be sustainable.
Tyson: Yeah. Well, I came to that by just reading about AI and I was thinking about operating protocols and things like that. And that it’s always better to have one that has a few simple operating protocols and then let it loose on a field of data. And so then I was thinking about all the principles of complexity and all that sort of thing. And I was reading some weird libertarian economist as well and all those kind of ideas converged. And I thought, yeah it’s just those four things connectivity and that interaction diversity also really important.
Tyson: But diversity, I really liked where complexity theory took me with the definition of diversity as a principle. Because it’s not this kind of PC idea of just having a few different colored faces around a table. It’s more than that. Diversity means, making sure you’re as dissimilar as possible to the other nodes around you that are similar to you. That’s the first thing. And I found that to be really important, that you can’t just cluster together in these groups. Where you’re all just repeating each other’s words, these echo chambers you see on Twitter. And in cyberspace now they’re terrible because everybody’s just having this group think.
Tyson: But you need that diversity where you’re being dissimilar from the people you’re similar to. But then you also need to be interacting constantly with other agents that are completely dissimilar to you. And I was thinking about that in terms of ecosystems. And I was looking at that and going, yeah this is how all these things evolve, all these symbiosis. You have to have that diversity and then that needs to be the basis for your interaction. And you have to have a constant exchange of energy, resources, matter, between all his nodes.
Tyson: There was that and lots of different connections. That, for me, that was very much based on those pronouns in our Aboriginal languages that I was talking about last week. They lined up really well with these things, all the different kind of connections you have to have. First of all, the pairs, that there are pairs within a system, things that are paired together. And then there’s exclusive groups but then there’s bigger inclusive groups. And the entire system as well. Yeah, I really liked the way that worked. But then of course the most important thing that all of these lead to, and it’s all for shit if you don’t have the last one. But you have to have that adaptivity. You have to be able to allow yourself to be changed. A feedback loop needs to be transforming you, if you’re involved with it. Yeah, you can’t be stagnating at all. You have to be adapting constantly. You have to allow these interactions in these exchanges of energy to change you. And I guess that’s the hardest part.
Jim: Yeah. That comes very parallel to our complexity theories, concept of a complex adaptive system. Right? That truthfully because the world is always in flux around us, right? The things outside of our semipermeable membrane. If we can’t adapt to complexity and in complexity and with complexity, then we’re not likely to be long for the world.
Tyson: Yeah. That’s it. And I think I say in the book that our elders often say, if you don’t move with the land, the land will move you. You have to be at least as fluid as your landscape and the things that are happening within it.
Jim: Yeah and that’s, I think, pretty much exactly right. And exactly the same as the concept of complex adaptive systems. If you are rigid, the land is going to move or the water’s going to wash you away. Right? A reed in a river in flood is still there when the flood is over but the bridge is often gone. Right?
Jim: And that’s very, very, very important, it strikes me. I also wanted to put another connection between your work and other work, which I always find to be interesting when I’m talking to people. When you talk about connectedness, you talk specifically about it starting with pairs of people or pairs of anything. Right?
Jim: And yeah, there’s a very interesting concept called holarchy from Arthur Koestler’s book, The Ghost in the Machine. And the idea of a holon is very closely related. Which is that, and again to the conversation we had earlier about relationships and objects, he makes the very interesting and important and how the hell did we miss it? Western philosophy, more or less missed. This is that every object, every holon, as he would call it is both an interior and it’s an exterior. Right? It is, for instance, a cell is interior of a tissue or an organ but it’s exterior to the chemicals dancing around inside of it. A molecule is interior to a cell but it’s exterior to the atoms that are inside of it. And you can go down at least to Clarke’s and the philosophy there, I would say is probably a bunch of levels below Clarke’s.
Jim: We have no idea how high you can go because like the human is in a pair with say a spouse or a best friend. And those people are in relationship with a larger group. And we were talking before the show about hollow chain, well guess where the hollow comes from, it comes from holarchy. The hollow chain philosophy is actually a based upon this idea of holons and the fact that everything is both an interior and an exterior, depending on where it is in the emergent relationships.
Tyson: Yeah. Ah man and it’s just, the hollow chain, is such an elegant idea. If only the clunky tech would actually allow it to be efficient, it would be amazing.
Jim: Yeah. I did a podcast recently with Art Brock on the nerdy, technical details of hollow chain. Because I have fallen in love with it. And we’ll be doing another with him soon at a much higher level, easier to understand. On what hollow chain as a principle can let us do with, especially with respect to things like creating distributed currency. We talked about the money on money return machine. The problem is there’s only one signal, make my money grow motherfucker. Right?
Tyson: Yeah. That’s it.
Jim: And from that, all the sins of the world, almost not all, but a bunch of them can be derived. But suppose there were currencies for, for instance, the preservation of that river you talked about, right. And anybody that fucks up the river loses that currency, right. And anybody that makes that river healthier gains that currency. And so the river has its own currency. And so every action that’s taken that impacts the river is signaled thumbs up or thumbs down by the river currency.
Tyson: We could just take the Chinese software for social credits and do ecological credits instead. How does that work?
Jim: Yeah, I wouldn’t go. It’s got to be decentralized, it has to be adaptive. No goddamn top down. The Chinese are building the most complicated society ever, right? They are, no surprise, that the poll up Bureau, I think eight of the 10 members are engineers, right? Not scientists but engineers. And so the Chinese, have decided to go all in on complicated. They’re going to design it top down and they’re going to use brute force. And they’re going to use murder and torture and brainwashing and everything else, to have their way. And their social credit system, which initially sounds interesting, I believe is implemented by the way they’re doing it is a fucking nightmare.
Tyson: It’s hard.
Jim: It’s 1984, 1984 done right, if you were big brother you’d like to have all the tools that the Chinese have at their hands today.
Tyson: It’s like being canceled on Twitter, except you lose all your money as well.
Jim: Yeah, and your ability to travel and probably your friends stop talking to you and everything else. Right?
Tyson: Yeah, it’s horrifying.
Jim: So horrifying the worst. When I talk about the bad basins of attraction in my essay, In Search of the Fifth Attractor, I specifically lay out the Chinese neo fascist is perhaps the worst that we could fall into. Though it’s a race between that and fundamentalist religion, in my opinion. Both of them are pretty fucked up but something like hollow chain, which would allow many competing signal currencies to be adapted by people locally. And if they get adherence, they start to do their thing. If they don’t people just ignore them, then they go away. And that’s the way it needs to be bottom up and emergent, not top down and just crushing everybody’s soul.
Tyson: Yeah, that’s it. Well I mean, you did say that there is only one signal at the moment and that’s the money on money return thing. But I think there’s a lot of competing signals starting to get out there. Decentralizing philosophies that are, I think those signals are playing quite well at the moment.
Jim: I agree, they’re starting to but they’re teeny, teeny. Like our game B theory or regenerative ecology, people like Joe Brewer, Daniel Christian Wall. These are very interesting and very different ways of thinking about the world. But at least in terms, at least in the advanced West, I don’t think we’re at 0.1% yet of impact on the system. But the seeds are there, which is the important thing. And from a little seed, a vast Oak tree can grow.
Tyson: Yeah. I think most people would have heard of Bitcoin, at least. Most people have heard blockchain and they’ve heard these things. And it’s the ideas it’s the cultural ideas that start to seep into people’s norms. The more these conversations are had and the more interactions go on, you start to see people starting to just move towards this idea of, we don’t need these bosses. We don’t need these centralized authorities. We need things better distributed. All of these systems.
Jim: Truthfully, I can go on for hours on why I don’t like Bitcoin and think it’s actually worse than the current system.
Tyson: Energy intensive thing is just.
Jim: It’s just so many bad things.
Tyson: Yeah. I run my house for years on the electricity to make one fucking Bitcoin.
Jim: Don’t get me going on that one.
Tyson: Anyway, oh God, the arguments we have in my house about that. [crosstalk 01:29:34] My woman’s doing a PhD, like I said earlier on to you, on Bitcoin and indigenous, not Bitcoin blockchain, and indigenous knowledge. And I’m not allowed to say the H word, which has hollow chain, she gets wild.
Jim: Interesting. Yeah. Now here’s an interesting quote from your book I loved, that it actually fits in exactly with what we just talked about. Which is, and this is actually your word, “The most remarkable thing about Western civilization is its ability to absorb any object or idea, alter it, sanitize it, rebrand it, and market it. Even ideas that are a threat can be co-opted and put to work. The Romans did it with Christianity an ideology of the poor and enslaved that threatened the foundations of empire. When torture and murder became ineffective as deterrents, they simply embraced the idea and made it the state religion.” Maybe this ability of Western civilization, more than any other previous civilization to adapt to anything might actually be our salvation, or maybe not.
Tyson: But, it seems to adapt things but I mean it just adopts the branding of the things. That’s the problem. It takes the shell and throws everything meaningful away. It takes on the branding and the labels of these things and makes people feel happy that, yeah, we’re doing this. I don’t know, airbrushing all this with this politically correct language now but still the same systems of imbalance and inequity and oppression. It’s this embracing of any idea that could destroy the system. And just taking on the language of it and the images of it and turning it to support the status quo.
Jim: Though, on the other hand, there are things that are like viruses, right? The Western civilization has taken in, as you pointed out, some of these radical ideas like blockchain and it may eat it from inside.
Tyson: Yeah. Well it’ll turn it and it already is. They’re already turning blockchain into something else. They’re finding ways to go, like banks are embracing it and getting on board with it. And trying to find ways to, the stock market, everything else, trying to find ways to incorporate it into the money on money return paradigm. They’ll take it and they’ll go, yeah decentralized, but they won’t be. They won’t actually do that. They’ll just call it that but it’ll still be the same Ponzi scheme just with a different name.
Jim: And running more efficiently, right?
Jim: Like the IBM blockchain platform, blockchain for game A motherfuckers, right?
Jim: Then in highly optimized and lots of capabilities. But again, the idea is now loose. One of my things that really bothers me having to raise the consciousness of people is that our monetary system in the West did not come down from Mount Sinai with Moses, right. It was a series of frozen accidents starting with the Greeks and going through the establishment of the bank of England in 1694, where we for the first time had central banks with fractional reserve currency, the federal reserve going off the gold standard. This monetary system is not a given. It is a series of frozen accidents and we can change it. Right? And if we change the monetary system or have competing monetary systems, then that fundamental engine at the center becomes a quite different beast. And it’s possible that the West’s avidness to absorb any object or idea, as you put it, could well have it absorbed, may already have absorbed this virus of de central bottoms up self-organizing signals. In a way that may allow the bottom to capture the top.
Tyson: Yeah. I wonder. Well, I think that’d be a nice way to look at it. A nice hopeful note to end on but I think usually it’ll be like dream catchers. People like to hang them off the rear view mirror of their car, or hang them up around their houses as decorations but they have no idea about how those things are used in cultural context, in native American culture. They have no idea about the law and the stories around that. They don’t know about the protocols of that and all of the social norms attached to that and how you’re supposed to behave with those things. They just have them hanging on the wall, you know? So they embrace the dream catcher but they’re still having the same shitty dreams.
Jim: That’s exactly right. And in fact, in our game B discussion, we use something so similar it’s uncanny, which is our biggest risk is that we accidentally reinvent game A with just game B terminology.
Tyson: Yeah. Well, I think you have a bigger risk, which is all the good stuff that you produce gets stolen from you by game A people. Who then call what they’re doing game B and they use all your terminologies and everything but basically use that to maintain their monopolies.
Jim: Yeah. It’s like green washing on environmentalism, right?
Tyson: Yeah. And they use some of your solutions to be able to kick the can down the road a bit further.
Jim: Yeah. I’m sure people will try.
Jim: Well, Tyson, I want to again say that your book is the most meaningful book I have read in years and that’s Sand Talk. And I would strongly encourage all people who want to try to reach towards what comes next, whether it’s game B, whether it’s something entirely else to read this book. And see if you can feel it in your DNA trying to tell you something. I’m not yet sure what it’s trying to tell me but I know it’s trying to tell me something. And I’m going to be marinating on this for some time to come. And I certainly look forward to talk to you.
Tyson: Yeah. Just let it work on you Jim. You don’t have to be even conscious of it. Just keep going and doing what you’re doing. It’s magnificent and beautiful. Keep gaming the B.
Jim: Yeah, exactly.
Tyson: It’s working for me. I’m loving it.
Jim: Great chatting with you. And I look forward to chatting with you again, in the not too distant future.
Tyson: Sweet, see you Jim.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes consulting. Music by tomMueller@modernspacemusic.com.