Wednesday, March 9, 2011

update from Arkwright

Infrastructure: We are off the electrical grid, and our solar panels and batteries (all donated) are serving us well. We are off the heating grid, using two rocket stoves that heat (relatively cleanly) with wood. We are also off the water grid. We have running hot water from the rocket stove, which so far we have used for dishes, but now that it is getting warm, we probably won't fire the stove up anymore. We also have running hot water from solar panels and a heating element which we use for indoor showers and dishes. We also have hot water from the passive solar outdoor (in the greenhouse) shower now that it is above freezing. We are taking showers and I am doing laundry with that water. We are still cooking mostly with propane from tanks, though occasionally I use my little rocket stove and a solar cooker. We are planning more cooking rocket stoves for an outdoor kitchen so we could get off the propane grid. Our greenhouse is working great--we have many starts and some have been transplanted into the garden already. We are digging many beds and should have about 1500 sq feet planted (which is not that much considering it would take about 4000 sq feet to feed a person needing 2500 calories for a year (maybe half that much with two successive plantings and 1/4 with excellent yields). Our greenhouse also kept the water from freezing. We have a shallow well pump plus 750 gallon cisterns (made out of wood and pond liner) that gives us running water, and an outdoor 300 gallon tank system plus diaphragm pump plus filters for our drinking water. Our fruit trees have many buds, so I am hoping for many plums and peaches. Our chickens were laying great until I thought to experiment and see if they really need that unsustainable commercial feed so I took them off it for a week, and sure enough, they stopped laying. After two weeks on feed they are laying 5-6 eggs/day again. We are experimenting with growing worms for them and are considering using the neighbors 2000 sq foot yard for growing them some food. We are debating whether to use roundup or not to remove the Kudzu. Jenell just built a chicken tractor and we should be putting the chickens there to help us tear up the kudzu. The chickens seem happy, they have a big area to roam in (and supplement their diet with bugs), encircled by both an electric fence and chicken wire (not counting the chicken tractor). I also hope to supplement their diet with nuts from our black walnut trees which last year did not produce good nuts, but which we might be able to revitalize. I gathered some nuts from another place and am trying to grow maggots in them before I feed them to the chickens, and then crack them once the other husk is off and feed them again to the chickens. Our batteries and solar panels plus electronics are a temporary measure to buy us time. We either need to figure out how to make them locally or get off them eventually.

Social/spiritual: We are currently 3 people living in a house and two people helping with bread labor who are not living there. A few people have not been a good fit for what I (I'd like to say "we", but can't at this point) am trying to create. The urban intellectuals who have a million ideas (mostly from UTube) but can't implement any of them or only want to work on the "sexy" ones which do not address our immediate needs (e.g. someone wants to work on a DYI mass spec!). The opportunists who just want a free place to live. The anarchists who believe that they should only do what they love doing (which might be feasible after a critical mass is reached, but not at this stage of our project). The individualists who cannot take helpful suggestions for improvement without having their egos hurt. Without getting too personal, I would say that this is the most challenging area. I would like to encourage deep connection with people, nature and the divine, creativity, scholarship, critical thinking and joy. Unfortunately the internet is still prevalent in our house and I believe does not foster most of these qualities but in some cases actually works against them. It is maybe better than television, so I should be grateful for the fact that we have no television. I decided not to use internet at home and just go to the library for my brief internet needs and we will see if we can achieve consensus on that (it also costs money). We do show movies once a month, which is OK, but I would like more active activities. We did have intelligent discussions the first few movies, but not lately.

I am trying to institute activities which would promote the above qualities, but so far people have not been able to participate in those activities. The mainstream culture is too strong and I sometimes feel like I need to start with a clean slate and people who have less of the mainstream within them.

Economy: No luck with any of the people I wrote to personally (James Cameron, Greg Mortenson and Kim Stanley Robertson). Will investigate George Soros, Ursula LeGuin and Michael Moore. We are selling Kombucha as a separate coop (for legal reasons), but in order to make significant money we will need someone to take on the business/legal side of it. We are investigating making drinking glasses out of bottles. We started bartering with a neighbor who is a blacksmith. We give him and his wife eggs and veggies (she makes her own Kombucha so doesn't need ours) in return for gardening tools and barrels for rocket stoves. We do get much food and materials from the urban waste stream.

Legal: I met with a lawyer to get advice on getting 501c(3) status and tax questions. He thinks we do not need to file taxes until we make some significant money. Jenell and I attended a workshop about fiscal sponshorship from existing tax-exempt non-profits. It would be good to find a fiscal sponsor.

Transportation: we are mostly off the car grid, using bikes and public transportation and a bike trailer to haul stuff.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

the hundredth monkey

See for background. The story is apocryphal, a myth. But maybe something like that effect happens sometimes in evolution of species or of cultures. If it does happen, it could either be a speciation event or just a fixation of a mutant gene/meme within a species/culture. The part that is controversial is a proposed wholistic, global effect that does not involve local transfer of memes from monkey to monkey (or person to person). Something like collapse of a wave function or morphic fields. There is no data from evolutionary biology to support such a scenario, as far as I know, and I won't be discussing this scenario, as interesting as it might be. I will however discuss a way that critical population size could play a role in speciation or fixation of a meme/gene. Before we discuss how something like a critical mass could be essential for speciation (or for the fixation of a mutated gene/meme), we need to review 3 possible speciation scenarios.
1. The mountain pass scenario, when a reproductively isolated population needs to overcome a fitness barrier (mountain pass and think of negative fitness for the analogy to work) in order to then descend into a new valley where it can optimize its fitness and become a new species (splitting off from the parent species).
2. The tunneling scenario, when a reproductively isolated population has a hidden phenotype due to a genetic/memetic mutation and emerges into the other valley when it has traveled far enough in geographical and/or genetic/memetic space, without a fitness penalty (splitting off from the parent species).
3. The chronospeciation/entropic barrier scenario, when the whole population makes the shift (no reproductive isolation), going "downhill" (in negative fitness) all the way, finding a rare downhill path among mostly uphill paths. The downhill path may have been there for a while but was not found, or just emerged to to changing environment.

Keeping these speciation scenarios in mind, there are three posssible ways that a hundredth monkey scenario could operate:
1. When there is no speciation, but only fixation of a gene/meme, the mutated sub-population has reached a critical mass where the probability of being swamped out by genetic drift from the unmutated population is very small, and so the gene/meme almost certainly gets fixated in the population at large.
2. When there is reproductive isolation, a mutation in a master/regulatory meme, and a mountain pass or tunneling scenario, the small new species becomes large enough to be stable and not die out. This is once they have gone over the mountain pass or tunnelled through the mountain. In a mountain pass scenario, there is the possibility of a critical mass being necessary even while going up to the pass, because more people who are already manifesting some of the new culture might actually be able to lower the barrier or be able to handle and thwart the old culture manifesting in new people. I feel like this is the situation with my project (Open Space Church or Arkwright).
3. Perhaps a critical mass could be important in a chronospeciation event (no splitting into two species) without reproductive isolation in a scenario with entropic barriers. A few individuals go down the new path and thrive, but no one follows until a critical mass is reached because people (or monkeys) from the old species/culture are not going to notice the thriving people/monkeys in the new species or perhaps they notice and persecute or make it hard for those monkeys/people, being conservative in nature and apt to believe that the old ways are better. I think this might be the situation for the Possibility Alliance.