Monday, May 27, 2013

The Pentecostal bicycle

  Sethren, I have gone up to the mountain. Not Sinai, but Malham Cove, where many pilgrims were gathered for Whit Sunday.  And I saw miracles of nature, the breeding Peregrine, skylarks, the mountain viola, and the great heights dominated by the silver limestone pavement.  I saw from afar the line, no wider than the span of your arms, sethren, where the argentine North West, with its limestone and emerald grass, becomes the dun of Yorkshire, millstone grit.  And from a young couple I heard one of those fragments of wisdom which exemplified, in that ancient landscape below its big sky, the difference between the culture of man and the culture of woman:
Eve:          …something that I can enjoy as well.
Adam:      Well as far as I’m concerned, it’s a can of bollocks.
Middle Craven Fault, right of ladder of fields up to horizon
  And on those heights I contemplated the big question, can evolution proceed at the level of the group? which as I’ve said on more than one occasion seems to me to be heresy.  And it occurred to me that what those heretics are in fact talking about is the horizontal transmission of culture, as it might be in biological life, in the incorporation of one form into another; as mitochondria into our own cells; or like gene exchange, the slicing and splicing of the chromosome.  And it bethought me this text, snipped and spliced, might be appropriate to Whit Monday, the season when the Pentecostal fire leapt across the multitude and across horizons, from disciple to disciple of the last Jewish Prophet, a case of horizontal culture transmission if ever there was one, but also vertical, since whence can this fire have come, save from the temples of Zoroaster:

  “Take the bicycle.  From the second half of the Nineteenth Century, the basic layout and structure of the bicycle has been unchanged.  And yet from then to now there have been a succession  of variations, thousands if not millions (depending on scale and how you count) which have led from the first mechanically propelled human powered two-wheel-in-line vehicle, to the huge spectrum of bicycles in the world today.  And one can plot divergent lines of bicycle descent.  One variant is for racing at speeds of 50 kph, another is for riding over rocks and tree roots, another for performing gravity-defying aerial tricks, and another for going shopping in an elegant dress; very different roles; all fulfilled by the same two wheels and triangular with beams structure.  All these can be put in one phylogenetic tree.
  However there is an area where these mutations are very different from most of those in biological life.  Though in the early evolution of life extraneous bits (such as mitochondria) were incorporated into complex organisms, the structural material did not suddenly change with the totality that it is inclined to in contemporary material production.  The airframes of aeroplanes were made of wood and fabric, with a few bits of metal.  Then aluminium predominated.  Now significant fractions are made of composite materials, fibres, ceramics.  Bikes were made of steel, and now they’re made of aluminium or carbon fibre.  No animal swaps the substance of its skeleton for another over a matter of years in this way.  The environment where the bicycle reproduces cannot be a merely passive matrix, as the real world is for biological life.
  As well as materials, substructures are suddenly imported.  Thus the environment where reproduction takes place must have within it active processes, proactive agents.  The change from the dandy horse, which you sat astride and ran with, to the velocipede with cranks and pedals attached to the front wheel, to the roller chain transmission, these were not small steps, they were, in evolutionary terms, unaccountable leaps.
  And that is the matter to be investigated, in the search for an  evidence-based case for Evoculture being an evolutionary process which lives in obligate symbiosis with homo sapiens; a symbiosis in which each partner has evolved in roughly alternate steps over a very short period of evolutionary time, each in turn hoisting the other up by the bootstraps; brain mutation, evolution of Evoculture, further brain mutation, further evolution of Evoculture, following each other in expansive, exponential succession and success.
  The line of descent, the variations that proceed in a certain order and not randomly, the divergence of lines (as between the all-terrain and road bike) suggest that when a mutated bike comes into the world, it is the product of another bike.  But what aspect of another bike is it a product of?  Clearly not of the physical, in-the-world bicycle.  We are quite clear that a bicycle does not produce another bicycle.  It is equally clear that the bicycle ridden by today’s champions could not have evolved  solely in the brains of human beings.  There would have been not the slightest chance of the modern race bike existing if the idea had merely been developed and refined in and between brains, without the parallel development of bikes-in-the-world.  There is something about bikes-in-the-world that reproduces further, and different, bikes-in-the-world.  It’s not the bike itself, not the physical thing.  So what is it?  The answer is going to be a formulation, a word denoting one of many bounded but open areas of the metaverse; a praxis.  What produces another bicycle from the bicycle-in-the-world is the praxis of the generic bicycle to which the ideoverse of the designer has open access.”

  Go in peace, sethren.  May the flames spread, and keep a drowsy emperor awake.

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