Wolves and Bunnies

“Population biology was a radical new field back in the early 20th century. Rather than just collecting statistics to describe animal populations, a few ambitious researchers like Alfred Lotka wanted to create basic mathematical models of things like predators and prey to predict the evolution of their linked populations. Predators (like wolves) eat prey (like bunnies) so they can make more wolf babies, thereby increasing the wolf population. Bunnies do a fine job of reproducing on their own, but if too many are eaten, their population numbers suffer. Today, population biologists, ecologists, and their compatriots use mathematical models to study everything from the spread of disease to the propagation of invasive species. The approach has even found its way to the study of human civilizations, including their collapse in places like Easter Island.


“We used these tools to build a simple model for the evolution of a civilization with its planet. In our approach, the exo-civilization’s population and the planetary environment are braided together by energy use and its consequences. The planet gives the civilization energy resources. The civilization consumes them to do the work of civilization building. As a civilization harvests more power from the planet, its capacities soar. That includes the ability to make and feed more babies. This link between available energy (in the form of food for simple organisms) and rising birth rates is fundamental to population biology. And for human civilization the steep rise we’ve seen in population is closely tied to fertilizer involving fossil-fuel use. So greater energy will, in the beginning, mean bigger populations. But there’s no free lunch from a planetary perspective. Using all that energy has to result in feedback on the planet. That’s what we earthlings are just starting to see with climate change. If global warming gets really nasty, everything from energy harvesting to food production is going to get severely stressed and our large human population won’t be sustainable. That’s why our exo-civilization models linked rising planetary impacts with population declines. It was all pretty straightforward, requiring no assumptions about alien economics, sociology, or any other science-fiction ideas.

“But to allow for some choice on the part of the exo-civilization we also included a basic switch describing how the civilization could respond to changing planetary conditions. For the sake of simplicity, we imagined that the planet had just two kinds of energy resources. One had a high planetary impact (like fossil fuels). The other had low impact (like solar energy). In some models we allowed the civilization to switch from to one to the other as things got bad.

“So, what did the model tell us? We saw three distinct kinds of civilizational histories. The first—and, alarmingly, most common—was what we called “the die-off.” As the civilization used energy, its numbers grew rapidly, but the use of the resource also pushed the planet away from the conditions the civilization grew up with. As the evolution of the civilization and planet continued, the population skyrocketed, blowing past the planet’s limits. The population, in other words, overshot the planet’s carrying capacity. Then came a big reduction in the civilization’s population until both the planet and the civilization reached a steady state. After that the population and the planet stopped changing. A sustainable planetary civilization was achieved, but at a high cost. In many of the models, we saw as much as 70 percent of the population perish before a steady state was reached. In reality, it’s not clear that a complex technological civilization like ours could survive such a catastrophe…”

Text: Adam Frank, How Do Aliens Solve Climate Change? The Atlantic 

What the Map Doesn’t Show

“Where the City Can’t See is the first fiction film shot entirely through laser scanning technology, directed by artist Liam Young and written by author Tim Maughan. Set in the Chinese owned and controlled Detroit Economic Zone (DEZ), in a not-too-distant future where Google maps, urban management systems and CCTV surveillance are not only mapping our cities, but ruling them.

“Exploring the subcultures that could emerge from these new technologies, the film follows a collection of young factory workers across a single night, as they drift through the smart city in a driverless taxi, searching for a place they know exists, but that the map doesn’t show. They are part of an underground community that work on the production lines by day, by night adorn themselves in machine vision camouflage and the tribal masks of anti-facial recognition, enacting their escapist fantasies in the hidden spaces of the city. They hack the city and journey through a network of stealth buildings, ruinous landscapes, ghost architectures, anomalies, glitches and sprites, searching for the wilds beyond the machines…”

Text: Where The City Can’t See, andfestival
Video: WHERE THE CITY CAN’T SEE TEASER from liam young on Vimeo.


“You’re talking about memories…”

“UCLA biologists report they have transferred a memory from one marine snail to another, creating an artificial memory, by injecting RNA from one to another. This research could lead to new ways to lessen the trauma of painful memories with RNA and to restore lost memories.

“I think in the not-too-distant future, we could potentially use RNA to ameliorate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease or post-traumatic stress disorder,” said David Glanzman, senior author of the study and a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology. The team’s research is published May 14 in eNeuro, the online journal of the Society for Neuroscience.


“RNA, or ribonucleic acid, has been widely known as a cellular messenger that makes proteins and carries out DNA’s instructions to other parts of the cell. It is now understood to have other important functions besides protein coding, including regulation of a variety of cellular processes involved in development and disease.

“The researchers gave mild electric shocks to the tails of a species of marine snail called Aplysia. The snails received five tail shocks, one every 20 minutes, and then five more 24 hours later. The shocks enhance the snail’s defensive withdrawal reflex, a response it displays for protection from potential harm. When the researchers subsequently tapped the snails, they found those that had been given the shocks displayed a defensive contraction that lasted an average of 50 seconds, a simple type of learning known as “sensitization.” Those that had not been given the shocks contracted for only about one second.

“The life scientists extracted RNA from the nervous systems of marine snails that received the tail shocks the day after the second series of shocks, and also from marine snails that did not receive any shocks. Then the RNA from the first (sensitized) group was injected into seven marine snails that had not received any shocks, and the RNA from the second group was injected into a control group of seven other snails that also had not received any shocks.

“Remarkably, the scientists found that the seven that received the RNA from snails that were given the shocks behaved as if they themselves had received the tail shocks: They displayed a defensive contraction that lasted an average of about 40 seconds.

“It’s as though we transferred the memory,” said Glanzman, who is also a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute.

“In the field of neuroscience, it has long been thought that memories are stored in synapses. (Each neuron has several thousand synapses.) Glanzman holds a different view, believing that memories are stored in the nucleus of neurons.

“If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked,” said Glanzman, who added that the marine snail is an excellent model for studying the brain and memory.”

Text: Biologists ‘transfer’ a memory between snails, University of California.

Pic: Paul Rumsey, Snail, 1988-93.

Data paintings

“What resembles the wall of an exotic underground grotto is actually a work of art representing the circuitry of the brain in action. Engram / Remember is an incredible moving spectacle, forged from algorithms that convert data about brainwave activity into captivating imagery – this image shows just a single frame. The high-resolution screen starts off showing what seems to be a piece of paper ripping and folding into itself, then morphs into swirling shapes that wriggle and squirm around in an imaginary box.

“Artist Refik Anadol creates his “data paintings” and other works at the Neuroscape Laboratory at the University of California in San Francisco. He measures and records volunteers’ brainwave activity with electrodes placed on their scalp (pictured below), then uses fractal algorithms and neural nets to turn the data into these shape-shifting displays. Engram / Remember uses data taken from his own brain activity while he was recalling positive long-term memories, he says.”

Text: Swirling wall of moving patterns represents our thoughts, New Scientist.

Video: Engram: Data Sculpture for Melting Memories from Refik Anadol

“Read and write the language of the brain…”

“The therapeutic potential for the device is exciting. From helping to restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, to reinstating sensation in patients with peripheral nerve damage and helping amputees control prosthetic limbs.

“This has great potential for neural prostheses, since it has the precision needed for the brain to interpret the pattern of activation,” says Mardinly. “If you can read and write the language of the brain, you can speak to it in its own language and it can interpret the message much better.” Mardinly is already thinking beyond therapeutic uses, towards augmenting human experience: “This is one of the first steps in a long road to develop a technology that could be a virtual brain implant with additional senses or enhanced senses.”


“We’re still a ways off before you can plan your next staycation at a 3D Shot themed resort and spa. As of now, the researchers are testing a prototype in the visual, touch and motor areas of mice brains.

“The mice are showing similar patterns of neural response correlating to sensory stimuli. The next step is training the mice so scientists can observe behavior changes that correspond to the stimulation. Studying behavioral cues is the best measure of success because you can’t ask a mouse if it’s experiencing the ripe, mushroomy taste of Limburger cheese as you flash holograms into its cortex.

“The researchers plan to scale-up the device’s capacity to interpret and create from a broader terrain of brain matter while scaling-down the device to make it portable enough to slip inside a backpack.

“They’re also working towards capturing neural patterns inside the brain with the goal of reproducing sensory experience and playing it back through holography.”

Text: Scientists Project Holograms Into The Brain To Create Experiences, Forbes.

“We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.”



There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.



Text: Outer Limits, opening narration.

Pics: “Luminant Point Arrays is a photographic series of old tube televisions taken at the very moment they are switched off. The TV picture breaks down and is abstracted to its essential element: light. This abstraction also results in the collapse of the external reference. Each of these photographs is from a different TV, but it’s also the length of exposure, timing, and time the TV has been running before the photo is taken that affects the results.” – Stephen Tillmans, Leuchtpunktordnungen. 

“Nothing you could really call a nuclear war…”

“No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.”


Text: William Gibson, The Peripheral

Pic: Filip Hodas